Good to be back?

Well that’s different. I know I went on about driving in the UK and how rubbish that would be after seven months away, but there is no doubt that it is different. Leaving aside driving on the wrong side of the road (what were they thinking?), the British drivers do things differently. First they drive about fifteen percent faster than their continental counterparts. Driving on the M25 was akin to being sat on one of

 thru a gap in R&C's back hedge

thru a gap in R&C’s back hedge

those Formula 1 arcade machines where life is shooting past you on the big screen as you try your best to make progress round the track. Instead of doing 70kph I found myself doing 52mph, which seemed – in Doris – to be mighty quick after a leisurely time on the French N Roads.

Second, there are lots of them. I know it’s just a question of space and the size of the population, but are there really twice as many people and half as much space here in Britain? Because that’s what it felt like. Zoom, zip, zoom. But the good thing is that at least you know what British drivers are going to do and they nearly always follow the rules. There’s never the case where two lanes fits three cars (or sometimes four in Naples). Nor do you keep an eye on drivers coming in from the side, waiting until they see the whites of your eyes and then pulling out in front of you (all over Italy). And the density of old people sat on three cushions, gripping the steering wheel like they were hanging onto the front rail of the rollercoaster, is small. In both France and Italy, old men with nagging wives driving Renault 4s and Mark 1 Pandas are common place – all of them driving at 20 kph.

So some good things about being back and some rubbish things, but certainly France wins the ‘ease of driving’ vote.

Ashdown House NT (walking the dogs near Annie).  Leased  by Pete Townsend for £4M?

Ashdown House NT (walking the dogs near Annie). Leased by Pete Townsend for £4M?

We spent two nights with Richard and Caroline (really lovely to see them and good runs round the big field out the back). Stopped en route to C’s sister Annie in Lambourn to see my brother, Kevin, and then parked outside Annie’s for the night. The highlight at R&C’s was descaling Doris’ hot water tank by replacing the water with vinegar and heating the whole lot up, and then flushing it all out. Hopefully it has worked….tea tastes funny now though.

an idiot descaling the hot water system

an idiot descaling the hot water system

Next stop is Bristol for Jen’s birthday. She found out about the surprise (asked us a direct question – and I am programmed by the authorities not to lie), but the effect was achieved. Bex and Steven look like they’re going to be coming down for the Sunday so the plan is a BBQ at Blaise Castle on Saturday for all her friends and a family get together at Jen’s place for her birthday on the Sunday. Should be good.

celebrating Annie's 'new' house

celebrating Annie’s ‘new’ house

Back in the blogging mode then. But I think it likely that it will be after the weekend before I post again – although I will publish the remaining chapters of UH on Sunday.

Nice to speak to you again! Have a great weekend.

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The Last Post (well, not really)

This is my last post before we return to the UK. We started living in Doris ten months ago and have been on the Continent for seven months. To all intents and purposes we have been doing this for a year – now is close to the end of a cycle. Also as I have decided to reduce the number of posts I scribe from today (and I don’t know what the regularity is – thanks for all the advice and encouragement on that by the way) this is also the end of my ‘one-a-day’ era. Certainly for now.

As such this is a good time to reflect – indeed C and I had a discussion this morning on where this is all going and what the opportunities are. And, as this is a record, I thought I’d put all that out there so that it’s there for prosperity. So two bits to this. First, what’s it all been like? And second what of the future?

I think the best way to describe what it’s been like is the reminder I got this morning talking to a couple who were just heading south for ‘a couple of months, could be longer.’ Gentle envy was the overriding feeling at that point. Yes, we were coming back to the UK for all the right reasons, but the thought of turning around and heading back down to the pines, or even further south, was an enticing one. And that is the best way to describe what it’s been like. It’s a different world with different emotions and feelings. There’s a freedom about being in Doris especially on the Continent where everything is viewed through different coloured lenses. There are no pressures, no timelines and no lists, unless you’re C. It is like being on an endless holiday. Fabulous.

Of course we’re not going back to work, nor are we moving back into a house, but nonetheless it’s not the same doing this in the UK. Well not quite.

rather him than me...

rather him than me…

How has it affected me? On July 14th last year I was wound up like a clockwork spring. Ten months later I feel like a bungee that’s not attached to anything, hanging unstretched from the garage wall. Ok, so at no point have I been jumping in the air with glee that this is the life we have chosen, overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. But the thought of going back into some form of conventional disposition with a house, work, and annual holidays could not be further from my mind. So it’s great – and simply miles better than the alternative.

It has, therefore, been a ten months where I have completely and utterly unraveled. The journey, especially the bit abroad, has been a marvel, with some fabulous world-famous sights, some great overnight spots and meeting some lovely people. Yes, the weather could have been kinder and we’ve learnt some lessons there, but leaving that aside it has been a fabulous journey.

(I’ve just reread this apologies that this seems like a one-sided commentary, but C does read this and mostly nods away….)

So what next? Well that’s an interesting question. The thing is, leaving aside C’s age, I am fifty three. Statistically I still have twelve years working life left. (Assuming I have twelve years actual life left, and at our age that’s always in the back of one’s mind). I spent twenty five years in the Army and eight years as a teacher, so twelve is a huge slab of time, easily enough to do something new. However I do not see myself working in a conventional sense, but also I cannot see us doing this for the next twenty years; that is I can’t see myself doing this without some other activity running in parallel which adds something to the mix and means that I/we are contributing in some way.

Calais' ok really

Calais’ ok really

Writing this and Unsuspecting Hero has provided that additional focus this time round, but the blog on its own isn’t enough. I have no idea whether UH is going to add anything of literally value to humankind, nor do I know if it will generate any income (I’ve had no reply from three agents but it is still planned to go public on Amazon at the end of June). The answer to that question is partially key to what we do next.

So. No conventional employment, and at my age that would be tricky (although I do think I could pick up a maths teaching job somewhere if I put my mind to it). We are lucky enough to be able to do this indefinitely, but it’s not adding to the pension pot in any discernible way. Importantly if we decide to settle down into a house I do think I would need to do something that provides a regular income to make the balance sheets work in our favour, so that needs to be thought through.

Where does that leave us? Well we have this summer covered, seeing people and whatnot. August is purposefully free – we may decide to escape somewhere in Doris if the weather in the UK is pants. We have a week in America in September and then the plan is to do Northern Europe until Christmas, be at home for Christmas with family, and then push off into the sunshine for the Spring and early summer. Possible Iberia (maybe into Morocco), or maybe back to Greece which we loved so much.

But in that mix has to be something for me to do. C is talking about picking up a hobby other than knitting (which she is v good at), but for me it will need to be something which could contribute to our financial disposition in some way, or at least is constructive and helpful to others. Writing another book maybe the answer, but C and I reckon that working for the minimum wage I would need to sell about two thousand UH books at Amazon prices to pay for my/our time. And I have absolutely no idea if that’s going to happen.

So that’s where we are. It has been a scream. And there is so much more to come, but from here on in there needs to be some underlying structure to what we are doing, we’ll certainly from September onwards.

Finally it is absolutely key to say that C and I have never been closer. And that’s a neat trick especially if you know us (both strongish personalities) and the fact that we have lived cheek by jowl, minute by minute with almost no break from each other. That is enough to make any two people find weaknesses and irritations. It has not always been easy, and there have been a couple of occasions when Doris could not contain the fallout. But our time together has been very special and has strengthened what we already had and that has to be worth it. So for those of you who know us and thought divorce was the only possible outcome, yah-boo-shucks to you!!

Thanks for reading and all the advice. My next post will come when it’s ready.

Almost home

Another day of driving – we made it all the way to Calais and whilst we’ve arrived a whole day early we’re happy to stay here today and potter. Especially with the cricket so well poised. In fact the addition of TMS and benign sunshine made the two hundred mile journey a real pleasure. We didn’t even stop for lunch – C making something up on the hoof.

I had thought about making this post a reflective one, a look back over almost a year full timing and seven months on the continent which included Greece and Sicily. But I’ll leave that for tomorrow. Getting on the ferry will be a line in the sand as from the day we arrive in the UK I will be posting more irregularly. I’m not sure when I’ll post, but I’m reckoning on twice a week. But I really don’t know yet. So something deep tomorrow I hope as, even now, I try to get the whole thing in perspective and start to decide with C how we take the whole thing forward.

So a single picture of our final resting spot in France, a country which we have really fallen back in love with.

almost home

almost home

Have a great Bank Holiday Monday. Much more tomorrow.

Heading north

A short post to reflect a day of driving and not a great deal else.

We put a pin on the map just west of Dreux (a village called Brezolles where there was a free Aire) but we stopped on the way out of Tours and had a Macdonalds breakfast whilst we posted the blog and did some other e-admin. Then we foraged for our own version of EU wine mountain so that we have some reserves for the UK – but knowing us it won’t be long before Morrisons are helping us out.

Doris for the night

Doris for the night

The drive was typically French, along straight roads with some cars and the odd truck. But peaceful and easy. The roads are always in good nick and often tree lined, which makes the whole experience an even more pleasant experience. I know they have a lot of room in comparison to us, and that makes road building and similar activities easier, but I am really not looking forward to returning to the UK and joining the fray that is our driving. I know I’ve said it before but we do seem to breed a number of unnecessary unpleasant drivers. And driving a campervan makes us a serious target for the rage of others. I wait to be pleasantly surprised.

The Aire was simple and easy. In an old walled garden, but next to a couple of big ponds we both managed to go for a run and throughout the late afternoon had TMS on in the background. Test Match Special is a remarkably relaxing wallpaper of sound and when you bother to tune in it is hilarious with cricket and comedy mixed in together.

lovely village last night

lovely village last night

We also had a woman coming round selling eggs, sausages and plucked pigeons. Mmmmm. Happy with the eggs and sausages, but not keen on the pigeons. Oh well.

Another day pottering north today. Have a relaxing Sunday.

Tours

I have to say that Tours was a bit of a let down. It’s a city built besides the Loire rather than on it. You might expect large merchant houses, an adjacent square with a big statue and other riverside paraphernalia like fountains and spectacular bridges. Tours plays at this with most of the city on the south side, and nearly all of the houses on the river modern built with an attempt at grandeur. The old town is, well, neither a town nor very old. There a one or two half timbered buildings, but nothing on the scale that many French towns have. I’m not sure if it suffered in the war (it’s quite far south) or it had its life sucked out by the expense lavished on all of the surrounding chateaux. Perhaps.

It does have a wonderful botanic garden which we found by accident. A beautiful and varied arboretum with well stocked ponds, inspiring flower beds and loads of sixth formers trying to revise for the upcoming exams, but losing themselves with flirting and sunbathing. It was a buoyant and joyful scene that made up for the rest of the city which was more workmanlike.

Tours' wonderful botanic gardens

Tours’ wonderful botanic gardens

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Thankfully the fifteen mile cycle into Tours was wonderful, and the return the same. Mrs Sun was with us throughout, and the cooling wind actually made the journey pleasant, especially on the way back in. We saw a couple of deer prancing round a field escaping the wrath of a big red tractor and, maybe a once a year sight, the down from local trees falling like snow and leaving the corner of one field white like Christmas.

tractor - run away!

tractor – run away!

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snow?

snow?

Other than one barred cycle route where Gypsies (can I call them that?) had littered the pavement with broken glass to stop cyclists entering their ghetto – the council had provided another route for us, which was good of them – the Loire Cycle route that we used was lovely. A perfect tonic for the stresses of…ok, so we have no stresses, but it was a tonic anyway.

Back at Doris C topped up with UV whilst I listened to TMS. C then went for a run and I skipped badly and gave up. I think the cycle, which I did almost exclusively without power, had taken its toll on my legs’ ability to jump. It was more standing than skipping. We then walked round the small village and settled into our routine.

Heading further north again today. We have some foraging to do and want to get closer to Calais for the final push. If you’re a teacher have a great half term (especially Bex and Steven), and for the rest of you a relaxing Bank Holiday.

Le Chateaux

It would be fair to say that since we left the UK in October there have only been two occasions when we thought it was too hot. And those two days weren’t consecutive, they were months apart. It would also be fair to say that until the day before yesterday the weather in the pines was ok. Overcast mornings and brighter afternoons. We spent some time on the beach and even changed colour. It was, you’d think, a precursor to a warm summer for the folk down here in the southwest. Although probably unseasonably cool.

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When we left the pines it hoofed it down and then a chilly northwesterly prevented us from feeling summery even though Mrs Sun had her head above the parapet. Yesterday the weather has picked up, but not in a way where you’re reaching for a handkerchief to wipe away the perspiration which was in danger of bleaching your eyebrows. There remained a cool wind and as soon as Mrs Sun popped to the loo, you were togging up against an arctic chill. It looks like it might be a couple of degrees warmer today, but it’s been so fickle I don’t hold out that much hope.

But we made it to the Loire to a nice little free Aire in Villandry, to west of Tours. It has its own chateaux, which has the most exquisite set of formal gardens (the chateaux ain’t bad either). We paid €6.50 each to visit the gardens and it was well worth it. I won’t bore you with too many ridiculous similes, like ‘the shapes and colours in the summer garden were like an upturned box of children’s crayons on a green and beige Paisley carpet’. Some photos will have to do.

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After we cycled to the Loire with a cuppa and then both went for good runs around and about. Mrs Sun was at her best by late afternoon and I have to say this morning looks promising. Fingers crossed!

We’re cycling into Tours today (down the Loire) with a picnic. A great way to spend a Friday. I hope yours is good too.

Almost mincemeat

Not a lot to report today, other than the fact that I almost got side-swiped by a juggernaut – on purpose.

our latest village

our latest village

We travelled north on the N10, a wonderful free motorway you get every so often in France. We were heading for Potiers. I was doing 80 kph, which is a bit under juggernaut cruising speed but in 6th on cruise control Doris will hold that speed pretty much forever. There were plenty of trucks out avoiding the motorway and most went passed us. One Spanish juggernaut came passed me and then slowed dramatically up the next hill. I ummed and ahhed and then retook him and C noticed that he wasn’t happy that we’d gone past. After about five minutes he caught up, flashed his lights and then hooted his horn. Obviously upset that I had overtook him when he was going 60kph. I was stuck at 80kph.

Anyway, he then overtook and purposefully pulled in before his trailer was past Doris and, as a result, I had to pull in to the hard shoulder otherwise we would have been mincemeat. I guess, in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have gone past him, but we are all at liberty to use the roads as we see fit and I am only cruising at about 5mph shot of juggernaut maximum speed. Oh well.

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We tried to find an Aire at Couhe and couldn’t find the one in the book, so eventually stopped in a free Aire at Vivonne. It was a shock to the system to be back in a carpark and under thick trees out of the sun. And with no room to manouevre. It’s a nice enough town with a lovely river, and there’s loos and a €2 top up of water if we wanted it, but it’s not quite the same as being in the forest. Which we already miss like if we’d donated a kidney.

We both went for runs and with fab Tourist Info wifi did e-admin and watched some Brit TV.

not quite the pines we're used to

not quite the pines we’re used to

Today we are heading for Tours on the Loire. We hope to have a couple of days sat still and Chateaux watch. Then the final assault on Calais! Have a great Thursday.